When the effort to tear down Memorial Coliseum was rekindled recently by a member of City Council and the Portland Beavers' owner, one claim made was that veterans of Oregon are interested in a new memorial being erected and thus are alright with the arena being torn down.
Although no one can ever claim to speak for all veterans, just as no other group ever speaks completely unanimously, an op-ed in Sunday's Oregonian re-affirms that the majority of local veterans and their leadership are behind a Coliseum restoration.
"Veterans in Oregon were so fortunate 50 years ago to have a nationally recognized community building dedicated to them," wrote Tony Stacy, Trudy Ruesser, Harley Wedel and Chris Hoskinson, a quartet of Oregon veterans' advocates. "This building was simply extraordinary. Four city blocks held up by four columns. Sixty-foot Oregon timber beams holding up massive expanses of glass overlooking our city. Memorial Coliseum was a gem that looked to the future."
Tony Stacy is on the Rose Quarter Advisory Committee and a Vietnam War veteran. TrudyReusser is the widow of Kenneth Reusser, the most highly decorated Marine pilot in American history. Harley Wedel served in Korea and Chris Hoskinson in Vietnam.
"With this building our community gave a very visible, heartfelt thanks to the men and women who served in our armed forces and helped make our country the great place it is," their op-ed continues.
"Those heroes who gave their lives in service had their names carved in stone in quiet courtyards. The coliseum was a living memorial, as well, that celebrated a life of freedom with graduations, events, parades and rallies. It celebrated community, by giving our city a large indoor, naturally lit place to gather."
"Years have gone by. The great honor to our veterans has become sadly neglected. The founding ideas behind the coliseum have been forgotten by most. Like many 50-year-old structures, the building needs significant capital improvements. So, let's fix it!"
The essay goes on to recommend that a "realistic amount of public funds" be committed right away to rejuvenate and enhance the Coliseum.
The veterans of Oregon also are working toward Veterans Day celebration this November that will be a tribute to armed forces members produced by Remembering America's Heroes and including a special light show illuminating the Glass Palace. The celebration will also serve as a 50th birthday party for Memorial Coliseum, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"Let's have the rejuvenation plan ready to go by then, and let's light up the coliseum for the city to see," the veterans quartet concludes. "Next year, let's start construction to make Memorial Coliseum a tribute to our fallen and living veterans once again. And then, after we have done our work, we can proudly rededicate to our veterans a rejuvenated, shining Memorial Coliseum."
Although I'm admittedly liberal politically, I am also the proud grandson of two World War II veterans, one of whom landed at Normandy and the other fought in the Pacific. I think of them when I'm inside Memorial Coliseum with its curtain open. It's easy for those outside the architectural profession to find such talk elitist or highfalutin, but it's really easy to communicate the power of symbolism here. The bounty of natural illumination and the transparency represent how the evil is defeated by exposing it to the light. Even if you're a pacifist and resist such moralist symbolism, it's easy to see how such transparency and light represent hope.
This kind of local landmark, one tying the generations and memorializing the sacrifices of our parents and grandparents, is irreplaceable. A minor-league baseball stadium, the threat to Memorial Coliseum, can be built anywhere - that is, if the team's community supports it. (And given the Beavers' small attendance numbers, that doesn't seem to be the case.) Hopefully the Portland Beavers won't have to leave town. I first saw them play as an eight-year-old kid. On my bookshelf is a baseball signed by the San Diego Chicken obtained at a Beavers' game as a 5th grader. But cannibalizing a building like this for the couple thousand who fill a portion of PGE Park each summer is not the way to save them or the Rose Quarter.